Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Winter Solstice

And remember the reason for the season: the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's axis of rotation.

(ducks the inevitable lightning bolt)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

what the $*#&$((

someone has hijacked my paleoprof google account so if you're getting e mails from Paleoprof until further notice it's not me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two graphs noted without comment

... mostly because it's just depressing.

This chart depicts the public acceptance of evolution theory in 34 countries in 2005. Adults were asked to respond to the statement: "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals." The percentage of respondents who believed this to be true is marked in blue; those who believed it to be false, in red; and those who were not sure, in yellow.

It's a little small click to embigen if you need to.

Monday, December 8, 2008

here we go

I have a student who wants to withdraw .... for some sort of vague transportation reason. There are like 3 classes left??!!?? Next semester I'm carrying a sword instead of a meter stick. Might cut down on the STUPID requests/questions.

There can be only one...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Old friends

Reading Isaac Asimov is like talking with an old friend. A very freakin' smart old friend.

(ok hands up who gets the picture??)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Random things

Ok so profgrrrrl did this and it was pretty cool so what the heck I figured I would too. The deal is that you write 6 totally random things about yourself. There are some other rules too but this is the internet and we don't need the MAN'S rules.
Ok six random things
1) If I can help it at all I don't walk into dark rooms I'll feel around the wall for the light switch before walking in.
2) If I had it to do over I might be a lunar geologist.
3) Yes Archeogrrrrl I pretended to like U2 way more than I do to get you to like me when we were dating. (actually it was a little more than "get her to like me" but this is a g rated blog)
4) I am so not gay but if I was... Daniel Craig
5) Speaking of Bond. I want to be Sean Connery when I grow up.
6) I feel like I should like baseball: the statistics, the tradition, the stately pace. But every time I try to watch it the stately pace puts me to sleep.

The occasional taphonomic effect

Things with lots of hard parts tend to be preserved in the fossil record. (At least the hard parts do )
Clams and snails and such

no problem
jelly fish

not so much. (took me forever to find a decent picture of one)
dinosaurs and other large terrestrial vertebrates

ok but not great. See the previous post about life position as well.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Still more...

A very interesting extension of the pattern I noted below. See it HERE

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Working it

It's been a rough week here. I'm working on getting my head back straight. Meanwhile here's some paleo porn.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Geology Controls Everything

I was looking at the electoral map by county and I saw a familiar pattern. It's most obvious of the picture below that shows the counties that Republicans made gains in this election.

I know it's a little blurry but that's ok we're just looking at at VERY general trend. I've circled the area we're interested in. Now look at the geologic map of the United States. I've circled the same area.

See how the Mc Cain voting pattern ends as the rocks that make up the Appalachian mountains end? Here's a closer pic of the region.

Back in the good old days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth there was a giant inland sea called the Sundance Sea (or Western Interior Epicontinental Seaway for those of you who like the words). In the central Alabama Georgia region this sea lapped up against and weathered the rocks that make up the Appalachian mountains, depositing the younger (green) rocks. Geologically what we're dealing with here are older (Pennsylvanian, about say 300 millionish years old) rock of the Appalachian mountains truncated by and overlain by much younger (Cretaceous, about say 80 ish million years old) rock.
Geopolitically I'm sure there are a number of factors that play into why Appalachia is Republican country (and if there's a political scientist out there who would like to collaborate on something get in touch) my guess is that a lot of them are controlled by the underlying geology.
Interesting that on this map anyway the political boundary and the Geologic boundary coincide.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mountains and such

The arc of history is long but it bends toward freedom.
--M.L. King

A man who would have had to sit at the back of the bus when he was a child is now the president of the United States Of America.
Thank God.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Have a cry

But in a good way

These two boys waited as a long line of adults greeted Senator Obama before a rally on Martin Luther King Day in Columbia, S.C. They never took their eyes off of him. Their grandmother told me, "Our young men have waited a long time to have someone to look up to, to make them believe Dr. King's words can be true for them." Jan. 21, 2008.

That picture and text come from a great photo essay by Callie Shell that can be found here

Monday, November 3, 2008

Picrtures to soothe the nervous Democrat's heart

Normal paleo-oriented (mostly) blogging will resume after election when I can breathe again.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bassets for Obama

Continuing a theme (click the picture to enbiggen and get the whole effect)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

best add ever

I cannot find it on you tube so I'll link to it on Ackerman.

all in the game....

I am so not hip

... as evidenced by the fact that I use the word "hip"
but also this from the incomparable profgrrrl in the comments.

... Turns out you kids WERE up to something, and it wasn't taphonomy either.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

the occasional taphonomic effect

Environment/life position
The first step to being fossilized is to get buried. So things that live buried, like most clams.

Are well represented in the fossil record. At the other end of the scale, large terrestrial vertebrates like dinosaurs.

Not nearly as common

still more to come...

what the?....

Ok I can understand a grocery store selling ping pong balls (I guess), and beer no problem. But in the same aisle?? And it wasn't some random thing, there were two distinct ping pong displays in the beer aisle.

Have you kids figured out something having to do with ping pong balls and beer? (Other than playing ping pong drunk because I've done that and it was.... underwhelming)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Breasts for Obama

say no more*

*except that I have the coolest wife in the world
(now THAT'S some real content)

The occasional concept.

Taphonomy is the paleontologists way of saying "shit happens" generally to the fossils ~I'm~ trying to study. (Yes we take it personally:) In a perfect world a Thompson's Gazelle, for example, dies of a heart attack while drinking at a river, it falls into the river where it is covered with fine grained sediment and is perfectly preserved intact until a paleontologist comes along and digs it up. This never happens. Thompson's Gazelles don't die of heart attacks, they die of Lion bites to the throat, after which they are scattered by the Lions all over the Serengeti. If they do fall into the river they're torn apart by crocodiles once the bones are buried there are all sorts of chemical processes that can degrade the bone so by the time we get to it there's usually not much left.
Taphonomy was once described to me as the loss of information in the fossil record. I'm not quite that pessimistic. For example, if your fossil shows signs of being eaten by crocodiles then you know that there were crocodiles around. But I'm a paleoecologist so I'm into that sort of thing.
Regardless, taphonomy is the transition from the life assemblage, which is all the biology going on in a certain area, to the fossil assemblage, which is what the paleontologist finds in the rock record. If you don't understand taphonomy you don't understand anything in paleo.

more to come....

... once more with feeling

Ok I've just emerged from another blogging crisis. My blogging crises have two parts 1) why would anyone bother to read what I write and 2) if I had "real" content it might be more wortwhile. Problem is, real content tends to be time consuming. Right now with two publications waiting at the door, a lab manual to finish writing, an online class to develp and a book publisher waiting for material blogging with very few people reading seems a bit less important. But I do want to build this blog into something and that requires effort.
So the new model: more content, real content but in shorter posts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

if you blog it they will come...

Ok I came in this morning, I unlocked the class room for my students. I unlocked my office, I went back down to the departmental office for coffee. Given this exceptionally simple sequence of events...
where the HELL are my keys?!?

Update: In the office supply store room. My across the hall colleague figured it out because she saw me with some office supplies, knew I had been in there, knew I wasn't finding them anywhere else, hadn't heard me mention the store room and so figured I had forgotten I was in there and they were in there.
Elementary Watson
I work with very smart people

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

maybe she could be vice president some day...

I am definitely not ready for the test.
I thought it was next week and did not have too much time this week to study for it.
Let me know what I should do.
Um.... study?

I got this e mail at 12:30 am last night. The test was today.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What Dreams May Come

"You keep thinking Butch, that's what you're good at. "

Friday, September 26, 2008

the occasional fossil

Protolindenia wittei yep it's a dragon fly from the famous Solnhofen limestone in Germany. A rock deposit well known for containing beautifully preserved fossils.

Today's occasional fossil insipired by this

Thursday, September 25, 2008

...could not make this up

My latest test had the following question:
Name the three properties of telescopes we discussed and explain why each is important.

Answer: 1) light gathering ability- because without it you can't see shit.

problem is.... he's kind of right. In a drunken fratboy sort of way.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

give me the rifle and I'll give them a 200m head start.....

I caught three students working together to cheat on a make up test tonight. ARGH

NOTHING pisses me off more than that.

.... over compensating for the previous post

I want this rifle

If I start driving a Hummer someone shoot me

Getting in touch with my feminine side

I want this bag.
If I start posting about shoes someone shoot me


Finals week is actually going pretty well. So well that my thoughts have turned to the fall semester. Two more to go then I enter grades then I'm DONE

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Occasional Fossil

Palm frond... just because I'm in an obvious sort of mood.

George Carlin Dead.....

(sorry mom)

Paleo 101 Rambling Post on Uniformitarianism

Uniformitarianism is usually the cornerstone of any class in geology or paleontology. Wikipedia (of all places) has a pretty good definition.

the assumption that the natural processes operating in the past are the same as those that can be observed operating in the present.

This usually just summed up as "the present is the key to the past". I don't really like summing it up though because it glosses over something very very important: Uniformitarianism is an assumption. When I look at ripple marks in a 300 million year old sandstone (see below)

I assume they form in the same way ripple marks form today by water running over sand making little "waves" in the sand (I'm NOT a sedimentologist can you tell?) See below:

Like I said this is an assumption but I think it's a valid assumption. Really it's not more of an assumption than any scientist makes. More fundamentally uniformitarianism means that the "rules" don't change. What ever laws of physics operate to make ripples today operated in the past to make ancient ripples.
Wait a second.
That's the fundamental assumption that underlies ALL of science. If we didn't assume that the laws of nature don't change then there would be no way to figure anything out, no way to do science. So why do geologists and paleontologists make such a big deal out of it? (believe me we do, we gave it a big name and we talk about it a LOT). I mean it's not like in chemistry the Professor says " ok the ideal gas law states that pv=nrt and it has ALWAYS been that way. ??? No, pv=nrt it just does and you assume it always has.
Geologists and paleontologists have had to deal with something that chemists and physicists do not: People who think the Earth is 6,000 years old. What geologists are really saying when we talk about uniformitarianism is: "if you are going to insist on believing the Earth is 6,000 years old then you're also going to have to believe that the laws of physics change significantly because there is no way that the rock that is on the surface of the Earth today could have formed in 6,000 years"
Now my guess is that people who believe this who believe the 6,000 year time frame would just call the suspension of the laws of physics a miracle and get on with their lives. But if that's the case then what's the point of any kind of science? What's the point of anything? Why get up in the morning if gravity may well stop working at any time or why dry to drive as your car relies on the ideal gas law and it may stop working.
Ok this has degenerated a bit so here's the crux:

Uniformitarianism just means that the laws don't change... for anyone, not for physicists or chemists or geologists. So when geologists look for explanations for what we see in the rock record we look to what's going on now. Because the processes that are acting now are the same as the processes that were acting then.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

... the stupid assignment

Ok ok I know I'm fixating on this student BUT. My problem child came up to me today and said "I tried to do the stupid earthquake assignment"....

This may require more self control than I have.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Just in case

If someone out there has an extra 850 dollars laying around (yeah right)

I take a 60 cm frame
(HEY ... it's worth a try .. you never know... )


Ok I really wasn't going to go here but: Barak Obama just did an interview in the Wall Street Journal in which he said:
I tend to be eclectic. I do think we're in a different time in 2008 than we were in 1992. The thing I think people should feel confident in is that I'm going to make these judgments not based on some fierce ideological pre-disposition but based on what makes sense. I'm a big believer in evidence. I'm a big believer in fact. You know, if somebody shows me we can do something better through a market mechanism, I'm happy to do it. I have no vested interest in expanding government or setting up a program just for the sake of setting one up. It's too much work.
QUICK someone elect him president before he changes his mind!!!!!!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I have a student who has left me just speechless. She is utterly without... I don't know ... curiosity... I'm just amazed and just sort of taken back. She's been on me all semester about how she doesn't "do" math or tests. By not dong math she means not doing arithmetic I was talking about relative humidity and I wrote 5/10 and got 50% and she stopped me because she didn't understand. (remember I teach COLLEGE) So as the rest of the class groaned I went through the whole thing... feeling like I was teaching 5th grade.
Then yesterday ... she came to me after class to tell me she can't do the writing assignment. I asked her what she thought of the reading associated with the assignment. She said "Oh yeah I read that it was boring I didn't really think anything about it." I was just dumbstruck. How can you read something and not think ANYTHING about it??!!?? hell I think something about the damn phone book when I read it (Look at all those Smiths I wonder why that is?) she just managed to read a 5 page essay on the faith and science as and not think anything about it.

I think the girl has a serious future in politics

Saturday, May 31, 2008


In case there's any one here who doesn't read profgrrrl. She's getting married so pop on over and congratulate her.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

where do they learn this?

Over the past couple of semesters I've had a rash of students want to know if they can take the test then retake it if they don't do well?? In what universe is this acceptable? I've also had more than a few students tell me "I don't do well on tests" then look at me expecting something. My response is usually something along the lines of "figure out WHY you don't do well on tests and I'll do what I can to mitigate that but you have to take the tests". I have a feeling high school these days is a bit less... shall we say rigorous than it should be.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

NASA baby... yeah (do your best Austin Powers)

Our engineering club got a behind the scenes tour of NASA a couple of weeks ago. They asked me to come along so they would be sure and have enough professors. We got to talk with engineers who work with the International Space Station and the Vehicle assembly building. We also got to go drive around Pad 39B where Discovery is waiting to launch. Very cool stuff. Click on any of the pictures to make them bigger

The Vehicle assembly building. This is where they "stacked" the Saturn V for the Apollo missions and where they attach the shuttle, Solid rocket boosters and external tank.

Inside the VAB. Photography does not do it justice. It used to be the largest building in the world in terms of volume. Now it's #3 but still huge.

A used Shuttle engine bell in the VAB.

The tops of the solid rocket boosters waiting to be stacked for the next shuttle mission which is going to the Hubble.

Discovery on the pad

Looking straight down the flame trench.

The fence directly in the path of the flame trench where you really really don't want to be during launch.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I'm having a bit of an existential blogging crisis here, namely: "why would I think that anyone really cares what I have to say". That, and I've been a bit sick lately. I think the resolution to the first problem is: even if no one else cares it's still fun to write... and I am feeling a bit better. So blogging will hopefully resume soon.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

it's over.....

Graduation was today and so it ends. Blogging will resume shortly. Coming soon Uniformitarianism... yummy... tastes like chicken

Friday, April 18, 2008

fun notes

The great thing about what I do is I have all this .... stuff... in my office. Which sometimes leads to some interesting circumstances.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

things to NOT sign me up for

Robotic prostate surgery
I saw a billboard for this on my way to my mom's house this weekend. There were two smiling surgeons with a machine behind them that had two ... shall we say ... metal fingers that looked poised to... um... open.

oh HELL no...

just wanted to make that clear.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

End of the semester

ARGGG pressure lots to do little time to do it....

I'm at blueschist, heading to eclogite.
ok that was a VERY bad geologist joke... pretend it was funny

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Occasional Fossil

This is a crinoid, an animal vaguely related to starfish, sea urchins and sand dollars. They are not extinct, but they are not nearly as common as they used to be. There was a time when the bottom of the continental shelf was teaming with these things, now they seem to be mostly restricted to hyper saline environments. Below I have a reconstruction.

Once again this is an animal, it moves using a water vascular system, it can pump water in and out if it's various parts and when it does so it moves. In graduate school I was once caught in an argument between two professors about whether or not the water vascular system extends all the way to the bottom of the animal. I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. (I just hmmmmed and nodded a lot)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

4000 Dead

Plus tens of thousands wounded plus no one is even sure how many dead, wounded, homeless, displaced Iraqis, but all told probably millions
And why? I have yet to hear an official reason that makes any sense. Meanwhile the people who actually attacked us are running wild in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And here we are.... 4000

Monday, March 17, 2008

Paleo 101 Pt 1 What, if anything, is paleontology

One of the reasons I started this blog to was to give myself an opportunity to write about issues in paleontology and science in general. Things have been a bit light on that front so today I start a new feature: Paleo 101, just a very brief run through of what paleontology is and what paleontologists do. There are a lot of misconceptions out there . I aim to clear them up, at least among my readership (all three of you).

Ok first things first, what is paleontology?
Paleontology is the study of the history of life.
This is a pretty good definition but it's awfully broad and could be taken to mean a variety of things. So lets talk for a moment about what paleontology isn't. Paleontology isn't Archeology. We don't care about ancient civilizations, temples, pyramids, arrowheads any of that stuff. Once humans evolved to the point where they are "anatomically modern" we no longer care about them, that's where Archeology picks up. In fact, the study of human evolutions is paleoanthropology and is usually studied by people who are more anthropologists than paleontologists.
Paleontology is not the study of fossils. Although fossils are the primary tool we use there is much more to it than that. Nor is paleontology the study of dinosaurs. There is a LOT more to the history of life than just dinosaurs.
Life on earth goes back about 3 billion years. On both ends of this things get a little hinkey. (if you want to be a paleontologist you have to learn technical terms like hinkey) Let's say you're walking along the beach and you find a shell.
1) Is it a fossil? and
2) would a paleontologist be interested?
In order 1) probably not. Fossils are usually older than the shells you find on the beach (although there are places where fossil shells are washing up on beaches). Exactly how old something has to be in order to be considered a fossil is open to some debate but just about everyone agrees that most shells on the beach aren't. Also, fossils have usually undergone some sort of physical or chemical modification that has allowed them to remain intact for thousands to billions of years. Shells on the beach haven't.
2) Maybe so. Even though it's not a fossil, paleontologists spend a great deal of time studying the patterns and processes of life in modern environments in order to understand what's happening in ancient environments. If your shell is abraded or broken or fell victim to a predator of some kind or is laying in a bed in a particular way with a bunch of other shells we may be very interested in it. The philosophical underpinning for this way or doing science is called uniformitarianism which is such an important concept that we'll have a post on just that in the near future.
On the other (hinkey) end, the oldest undisputed fossils look something like this:
Got it? That's a fossil. It's a stromatolite. A mat of sediment that was trapped by a microbial community then was turned into rock. We know it's biological in origin because it has a particular chemical signature. This is the thing with really old fossils, we're not dealing directly with the remains of a organism we're dealing with the chemical signature of the organism in the rock. Consequently, you'll find a lot of disagreement out there as to how old the oldest life actually is.

Ok that'll wrap us up for today. Next time: Uniformitarianism.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I have the best wife in the world

Archaeogrrrl went into the pool store to get some chemicals and stuff leaving me in the car with the dog and the A/C on. She came back, not only with the chemicals, but with this

radio control boat. Now I just need some ducks to chase.

ok, I'm freaked out

So I get in the elevator the other day and the phone starts to ring (the elevator's emergency phone, not my cell). I don't answer it but apparently it answers itself. There's someone on the other end saying "hello, hello" so, being the generally genial person I am I say "hello". The person on the other end asks who he's called. I tell him that he called the elevator in this building of this campus of this college. There is a long pause followed by "boy did I dial the wrong number".
You can call an elevator??? Not to be paranoid but a person could call the elevator and just not say anything and listen.
Just because I'm paranoid doesn't meant they're not out to get me.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

at last our long nightmare is over.

Seriously isn't there anything more important. I mean... DAMN

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Something nice

I do so much bitching about students that I feel I need to share something nice. I made a small mistake when I wrote my last test for lab. This mistake made one of the problems MUCH harder. Most of my students were on auto pilot and did what I did. They didn't even notice mistake and did the problem what way I intended it to be done. BUT I had a few who noticed the mistake and did the problem as written and GOT IT RIGHT I was so proud of them. (I gave them extra points) it was great to see them take what I taught them and then ramp it up two or three levels.
I'm having one of those Maybe-this-isn't-such-a-bad-way-to-make-a-living moments.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

anyone want to buy a television?

I won't be needing mine any more.
The Wire. The best show on television EVER is over. It ended after 5 seasons but more importantly it ended when it finished telling its story. Unlike another HBO drama (you know ... the "S" one) it didn't linger on life support for three or four seasons. If Shakespeare were alive today and writing for television he would write The Wire. I just thank god for my DVD's.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The occasional fossil

oh why wait
I was rooting around the net and found this:

It's a 125 million year old cicada from china. Click on the image to make it bigger, it's worth it I promise. You can see the segmentation of the body and the veins in the wings. That level of preservation is remarkable. I don't know for sure but this was probably preserved in a lake. A lot of the material coming from China is from ancient lakes. Because they usually have very fine sediments and not a lot of water movement lakes are ideal environments for preserving fine detail.

Spring Break

It's spring break so blogging's been a bit light lately. Fear not gentle readers I have plans for the coming week including an effort to drag the blog back into more G rated territory.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

getting her bag on

The girl went to Macy's Lancome counter the other day for the free gift with purchase event. She came out with not one but TWO gifts. They had neglected to call her about this event (she heard about it on TV) so rather than have to choose a gift they gave her both. She's very excited, apparently they're very Jackie-O.

I'm having a project runway moment. Make it work people!

could be a while...

Archaeogrrrl just read the last blog entries and was not amused. I offered to take the offending entries down to which she replied "oh no leave them up it's your blog"

"of course it's my body"

could be a long self-induced dry spell.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

equal time

I'm not gay but if I was...

cookie time

It's girl scout cookie time!!!! Oh yeah baby. I always appreciate the way they pack the thin mints in those single serving sleeves. Two servings per box. None of the girl scouts around here seem to look like this though (and frankly if they did I'd be scared)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

maybe if I carried a sword to class instead of a meter stick....

A real e-mail (the names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Hi Paleoprof this is Laaaaaazy Lucy from you class.I was wondering if you could kinda explain to me whats been going on in class this week.And if we have any test after spring break,what do i need to study.I plan to be back in class after spring break.

and the response I didn't send

Dear Laaaaaaazy
Why yes, I'd be happy to give you a weeks worth of lecture in the form of an e-mail. See the attached 22 page document outlining, in great detail, everything we covered in class that I wrote especially for you. What ever you do, do NOT look at the notes, reviews and power points I provided online and assume we picked up where we left off. Under NO circumstances should you look at the book to help fill in any material that is not directly addressed by the notes or you may need extra help with.

You have, somehow, managed to figure out that we are nearing the end this unit. Under NO circumstances should you look at the syllabus that I gave you AND put on line, under the heading of "test dates" to find the date of said test.

I will, of course, continue to take a larger interest in your education than you are. Everything will be fine I promise.

Yours in servitude

ps. I'm sure your English teacher would be happy to proofread any future e-mails before you send them to me. Just a thought

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Who on earth writes the power points that you have access to when you adopt a book?!? These things are TERRIBLE I usually write my own but I'm running short on time so I'm adapting the ones that the publisher provided. Adapting... un-fu**ing. I'm not sure I'm saving any time.
ok back to work.


Just in case you were worried (mom)
Cell phone ... not radioactive
Computer monitor ... not radioactive
Plastic Mammoth... not radioactive
Real Mammoth (tooth)... not radioactive
Demo minerals for radiometric dating lab ... VERY radioactive (But not dangerous. Fear not, I'm not going to grow a third arm or anything. )

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

what the.....

A diet coke can just appeared on my desk. It is not mine, I just looked and there it was. Strange..... Those of you who have seen my desk know that anything is possible. But still
(It's not radioactive by the way. )

The manhattan project redux....

I have a gieger counter in my office now. Stay tuned .....